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LSU Leads Collaborative Effort to Identify Genes Supporting Life in Extreme Conditions

September 21, 2011
Bloomington, Indiana --

In search of the genes that support life in extreme environments, researchers at LSU are core participants in a collaborative grant that has been awarded from the National Science Foundation, or NSF, to sequence the genome of the Atlantic killifish Fundulus heteroclitus, a species known to have evolved extremely high tolerance to dangerous pollutants.

Image of Joe ShawThis collaborative effort, led by LSU Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Andrew Whitehead, includes Joe Shaw and John Colbourne from Indiana University; Wes Warren of The Genome Institute at Washington University in St. Louis; Douglas Crawford and Marjorie Oleksiak of the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science; and Mark Hahn and Sibel Karchner from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in partnership with the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.

The Atlantic killifish has a rich history in research studying how organisms respond to changes in the environment, and some populations of this fish have rapidly and repeatedly evolved extreme tolerance to the chemicals that pollute some estuaries along the Atlantic coast. How do these fish survive and thrive in such stressful and normally lethal environments? The answer has thus far remained elusive.

This project aims to sequence the entire genome of the Atlantic killifish for use as a reference against other killifish population sequences to guide discovery of the genes and genetic changes that facilitate the dramatic evolution of pollution tolerance observed among various populations of Atlantic killifish.

Beyond this specific research objective, a complete genome sequence for the Atlantic killifish – with its many beneficial physiological and ecological characteristics – will provide a critical research resource for the broader scientific community. Studying the genome of this fish promises to accelerate and advance understanding of the genetic and historical determinants of health and disease for both wild species and humans within a changing environment.